The road to Alaska is a long one, with many spectacular sights; the Canadian Rockies and Jasper Natl. Park to the prairies of Alberta, the northern rockies of BC and Toad River, hotsprings, wildlife in every direction, great people and only a handful of towns.
Skylar Thornton and I (Aaron Robinson) embarked on our journey to Alaska around the 25th of March with high expectations for the trip ahead of us. The plan was to go to Valdez for the 3rd annual TAILGATE ALASKA world freeride festival, participate in the oh-so-epic rebirth of King of the Hill, (the greatest contest to ever grace the snowboard industry….read up on it) and film with the Resourceful Gnome crew for their new movie “Respect Your Elders”
- Skylar picked me up around 9 pm from Whitefish, MT. Here we are in Eureka, MT at the infamous Ksanka store, loaded up and hyphy as hell. We drove all the way through the night, into the next day and well into the next night before our first sleep of the trip.
The stretch of the trip through southern BC/Alberta is very beautiful….but we had no time to go slow and enjoy the sites. We booked it all the way to Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaskan Highway, by mid-afternoon the next day and met up with the other half of our caravan crew, Ben Lynch and Brandon Cocard. We are officially on the Alcan, next stop Toad River and Liard Hotsprings!
The two parties unite!! Skylar and I met up with Ben and Brandon at the start of the famous Alaskan Highway in Dawson Creek, B.C. The real drive starts now.
Ben Lynch soaks his road-tripped bones as Skylar Thornton braces himself for the mineral-loaded hot water of Liard Hotsprings.
Ben Lynch is many things; a young man, a wanderer, a hunter, a no-bullsh*t snowboarder and most importantly, owner of the "Blue Ox". The Ox is right at home on this long, lonely stretch of the Alcan.
Hours on the road turn into days on the road and time just lumps together into one droning 140km/hour drive through the most beautiful scenery imaginable. There’s more than enough time to ponder life, love, snowboarding and what the hell you’re doing driving multiple days and spending hundreds of dollars for who-knows-what.
Driving this road with some company is the way to do it though and I couldn’t have had a cooler crew of buddies to cruise with. The feeling of crossing back into American soil was unexplainable, especially since it’s AlaskAmerica; a seemingly lawless land of infinite opportunities.
Many hours of cooped-up angst released.....only 6 more hours to Valdez!!
- Skylar and Brandon get wicked on the guitars while Ben sings an impromptu border jam. We were waiting for the starter in the Blue Ox to cool down so it could start up. Ben was pushed by border patrol both into Canada and out of Canada due to his hot starter problem.
We finally made it Tailgate and were greeted by a number of friends and new friends alike. The scene at Tailgate Alaska is so unique to this party and this party only. Mark Sullivan and Nick Perata are the most welcoming two guys ever and many young people (including myself) owe the comfort and ease of their AK experiences to them.
Tailgate takes place at mile 29.5 of the Richardson highway in Thompson Pass outside of Valdez, Alaska. Alaska Backcountry Adventures (www. alaskabackcountry.com) is nice enough to let us tailgatin’ scabs overrun their parking lot for a whole 3 weeks. The snowmobile access is unreal, the heli operation (ABA) is top-notch and the terrain is world-class. With a who’s who of snowboarding lingering around the base camp, the buzz was high about the rebirth of King of the Hill, set to take place in 3 days. OMG I just saw Travis Rice!
With blue skies and some days to spare before KOTH, we got out and started shredding. Helicopters are ideal for riding limitless lines out here, but snowmachines get the job done for all the scabs not-so-wealthy.
Ben Lynch, very satisfied after some snowmo-accessed mini-golf AK lines in the "Chapter of the Tusk"
King of the HIll went off without a hitch; blue skies all day, soft and stable snow, and limit-pushing snowboarding. The roster was stocked with everyone from legends to up and comers. Alaskan veterans and pro boarders Mikey Basich, Travis Rice, Rob Kingwill, Mark Landvik, Dave Short were in competition against legendary locals like Donnie Mills and Rydor as well as young bucks like Ralph Backstrom, Andy Bergin-Sperry, Brandon Reid and Alex Yoder. The level of snowboarding by the girls was next level as well. Everyone from big mountain ruler Shannon Yates to pros like Anne-Flore Marxer and young gun slayers like Iris Lazzerschi and Vera Jensen.
That day I witnessed and got to ride along-side some of the most amazing snowboarding I’ve seen in real life. From Travis Rice’s massive backside 7 with hecka exposure to Mikey Basich’s hair-raising double line billy-goating to Shawn Farmers huge backflip……..epic riding went down. This is without a doubt about to become the greatest contest in the world once again.
(check the 2nd photo below for an idea of the terrain we rode for the contest.)
The Legendary Shawn Farmer. The rebirth of K.O.T.H fell right on his 45th birthday, an epic coincidence due to his role in pioneering snowboarding in these mountains and ruling it in past K.O.T.H. contests. Respect your elders. Farmer placed 7th after losing in an arm-wrestling tie-breaker with Mark Landvik, not bad for almost 50.
Iris Lazzereschi takes a break in between runs and watches on as some unbelievable snowboarding went down at the rebirth of King of the Hill. Iris consistently impressed and showed-up many of the guys she rode with up here. She is officially the first female full-time tailgater!!
My good buddy, Nico Demetrio gets barreled in a little sunny powder pocket. Nico is the only Chileano who attended Tailgate/competed in king of the hill. It's people like him who make this event and experience world-class and unforgettable.
"The Tusk" looms over the unlimited options available near Valdez and Thompson Pass. With the hooplah of Tailgate AK and King of the Hill subsiding and most folks heading home, this will be our private playground for the next couple weeks.
Though the party is over for most people, we’re sticking around for the long haul, currently waiting out a storm that’s already dropped 2.5 feet!! The forecast looks good and we’re set to head out and get shown around by a much-respected elder Mikey Basich when the skies clear. Stay posted for a blog post of the rest of our trip within the month and check out www.tailgatealaska.com and ask yourself “whay am I not there??”
Boot ‘em up!!